Think twice before you swat that bumblebee

While I was working in our rose garden, a bumblebee kept buzzing me. Just as I thought about giving it a gentle swat, though, I remembered a few reasons why I probably shouldn't. Why?

According to Greek mythology, Rhoecus, a mere mortal, was promised a reward from the ancient Greek deities because he saved a sacred tree from perishing. But to receive his reward, Rhoecus was required to wait for a "bee" to bring him the news of when and where his reward would be presented.

Back then, you see, it was believed that bees were messengers for Greek deities. So when the bee arrived, and Rhoecus greeted it with a swat, instead of rewarding Rhoecus, the deities punished him.

I didn't swat the bumblebee that was buzzing me, because I didn't want to tempt fate — or get stung. But another reason I didn't swat the bee is because they do a good job of pollinating plants that require pollination to produce fruit.

Bumblebees (Bombus pennsylvanicus) are native to North America. About 1-1/2-inches long, and sporting yellow bands on chunky, black abdomens, they have dark wings and fuzzy spurs on their hind legs that trap and deposit pollen from the flowers they visit while feeding on nectar.

Which reminds me. Maybe the bumblebee mistook me for a two-legged rosebush. After all, I was wearing bright colors, plus I was wearing a pleasant-smelling deodorant that the bee may have mistaken for an aromatic nectar.

In any case, I put a pair of shoes on right away, since bumblebee nests are located just below the soil, and if a nest is disturbed, its residents use their stingers to doggedly defend it.

This week in the garden

The fungus disease "late blight" (Phytophthora infestans) has made an early appearance. The cause of the Irish potato famine that occurred during the 19th century, it also destroys the plants and fruits of tomatoes. Early symptoms include brown, lesion-like blotches on leaves and stems that quickly spread to other tomato plants.

The best way to deter this soil-born and airborne disease is to grow late-blight resistant varieties from home-sown seeds, and to then mulch the plants in order to stop mud droplets from splashing onto the leaves.

Another way to control this disease is to treat infected plants with a fungicide labeled for tomatoes and late blight.

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